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An Introduction to Cockatiels

Updated on March 6, 2015

Introduction to the Cockatiel

The Cockatiel is a small crested parrot from the Cockatoo family. They range in size from 12-13” long, with about half of this length being the bird’s tail. The Cockatiel’s crest is a good indicator of its mood. If the bird is content, the crest stays fairly close to the head. If the bird is startled, it stands straight up. An angry or defensive bird will flatten its crest entirely.

Cockatiels are native to Australia and live wild in pairs or small flocks. Sometimes very large groups can be found together when the birds are migrating. Cockatiels go where the food and water is, and can be very destructive to farmer’s fields, because they enjoy grain crops.

In captivity, a Cockatiel can make a great pet. They have an average lifespan of 15-25 years. Some birds live much shorter lives, often due to an improper diet, though some have been known to live much longer. They have a distinctive call that can be loud, but is generally not annoying. Most people compare it to a whistle. Cockatiels can be taught to talk, but they are not as easy to teach as other birds. Because of their ability to whistle, some can be taught to whistle actual tunes.

There are fifteen different colour varieties of Cockatiels, though the wild coloured Cockatiel is gray, with white feathers on the edges of the wings. The males have yellow or white faces with distinctive orange cheek patches. Females are a similar colour, but their faces are usually gray, and their cheek patches are a lighter orange. Usually they can be sexed visually after their first molt. Until then, young Cockatiels look like females.

Cockatiels are sexually mature at 12-24 months, depending on the bird. They usually mate for life.

The Cage

The ideal cage for one Cockatiel is at least 24”x24”, but larger is even better because Cockatiels like to exercise. The spacing of the bars needs to be ¾” or less for safety. In a cage with larger spacing, the birds are at risk of either escaping, or getting caught while trying to escape. Get a cage with horizontal bars, because the birds love to climb.

Cockatiels enjoy having perches that are a variety of sizes and textures. Basic perches can be made from wooden dowels that are about ½” in diameter, but Cockatiels will also like natural wood perches. Fruit tree branches are especially good, but these must come from trees that haven’t been sprayed with pesticide. You can also purchase a wide variety of other perches from pet stores. Get a few different kinds, then observe your bird to see which one it likes best. When you place the perches, make sure they are low enough that the birds won’t have to sit hunched over.

The cage should also contain a variety of strong, safe toys, though these don’t necessarily have to be purchased. Even some crumpled up paper can entertain them for quite awhile. Be aware that cheap plastic toys will quickly be destroyed by the Cockatiel’s strong beak

Feeding

Cockatiels can be fed a pelleted ration, or a seed mix and other healthy foods. No bird should be exclusively fed seeds, because they will quickly become overweight. A complete pellet ration is ideal, but many birds don’t like pellets. You can help them get more nutrients by mixing pellets with the soft food they like.

Seed mixes should consist of small seeds like millet and canola, and larger seeds like safflower. High fat foods like sunflower seeds and nuts should only be fed on occasion. Cockatiels will eat 1-2 Tablespoons of seed per day. They will eat the middle of the seed and leave the husk. For this reason, make sure you check your bird’s food dish every day and see how many uneaten seeds are in it. Bird owners can be fooled into thinking the bird’s dish is full, when it’s actually full of empty shells.

Cockatiels also need to eat fruits and vegetables. They usually love apples, leafy greens, oranges, melons, and corn, on or off the cob. Fresh food should be fed at room temperature, so any frozen food should be thawed before it’s offered to the birds. They can also be offered healthy breakfast cereals and bread.

A cage should have at least three dishes. One for water, one for seeds or pellets and one for fresh feed. Uneaten fresh feed needs to be removed after a few hours so it doesn’t spoil.

Breeding

A breeding pair of Cockatiels should be given a nestbox that is about 12”x16” and about 10” high. The opening should be 3 ½” in diameter. Commercially available breeding cages have an extra door that can be opened, and the nestbox can be hung outside the cage. If you make a hinged lid on the nestbox, you can easily observe the clutch of eggs without disturbing the birds too much.

Peat moss and shavings make an ideal base for the nestbox. The female will lay one egg every other day, then usually start incubating the eggs once the third egg is laid. She will usually stop laying after four to six eggs. Both parents will sit on the eggs, sometimes at different times, and sometimes together. The first egg will hatch 18-21 days after the first egg appears. The new hatchlings will weigh 4-5grams and be mostly pink skin with a little bit of yellow down. They will be helpless, and nourished with their parent’s ‘crop milk’.

After 10 days, their eyes will be open, and they will begin to get feathers. They won’t leave the nest until they are about a month old. By six months, they will be fully mature, and will molt their juvenile plumage.

Taming

Spend time outside the cage at first, talking softly to your bird so it gets used to your voice. If it seems content with your presence, try putting your hand on the bars at the bird’s level. When the bird is comfortable with this, you can slowly put your hand into the cage and attempt to touch the Cockatiel. Eventually, it will learn to step up onto your hand with you put your finger, or hand in front of its breast. You might use a voice command like ‘Up. Up’ to encourage it. A voice command will also be of benefit when you start allowing your Cockatiel more freedom.

When your Cockatiel will step up onto your hand and sit without seeming frightened, you can start taking it out of the cage for short periods of time. Cockatiels can fly very well, so don’t let your bird go free all at once. Make sure doors and windows are shut, drapes are drawn, and other pets are outside the room. Turn off ceiling fans and other electronic appliances that might injure the Cockatiel. Remove and poisonous plants as the bird is likely to want to land on, and taste them.

If you don’t want your Cockatiel to be able to fly, it is possible to clip their flight feathers. It is easiest to for two people to do this. One can gently hold the bird’s body, while the other gently pulls the wing out and clips the feathers with scissors. Ask a breeder or vet to show you how to do this on your own bird.

Remember that the more time you spend with your Cockatiel, the tamer it will get.

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